Scales of War

Dark Gods Rise

2 weeks after the Fall

Icy winds swirl around the battlements of the Monastery of the Sundered Chain. Within, the celebrations continue, as they have done since the triumphant return of the Dawnriders following the death of Tiamat. On the battlements Reverence stands vigil against any remaining threat, obdurate and uncaring of the cold. And a little way away, equally uncaring or simply immune to the frigid temperatures, a slight form stares out into the night and broods.

Valasaar Moonscale eases his way out of the tower door and nods to Reverence, before making his way over to the other watcher. His deep voice easily overpowers the shriek of the wind. “Is something the matter, Corren?”

The softer reply is whipped away and almost lost. “Only a matter of purpose, Valasaar.”

Corren turns and leans against the crenelations. “I’m sure you’re glad to have more time in the mortal world, friend. But I was so certain… I knew my purpose, what She wanted of me and what I intended to do instead. This was not it.”

The shadar-kai sighs. “I am left wondering: was She also ignorant of the bond between Bahamut and Tiamat, or at least that Bahamut would absorb Tiamat’s power as she passed from the world? Or was I a fool even in my rebellion, dancing to Her tune?”

Valasaar claps a hand on Corren’s shoulder. “I really don’t know what you’re talking about, Corren,” the dragonborn booms. “But it’s much warmer inside.”

3 months after the Fall

Corren pauses at the workshop’s door to watch, eyes narrowing as he senses the pain and dread emanating from the rune-scribed circle laid out in precious metals on the floor. A whirling mandala of bright energies plays in the air above the circle, enclosing and dancing to the whim of the wizard in its centre, even as black and green flames lick at his feet.

In time the power subsides, leaving only a lingering echo of despair, and the pre-eminent mage of his time steps carefully across the boundaries of his spell.

“Some fell working, Marcus?”

“Quite the opposite, although I admit the paraphernalia could be a little disturbing to lesser minds. No,” Marcus looks directly at Corren for the first time, “I was merely attempting to ascertain what we have done.”

With a wave of Marcus’ hand, candles around the room spring to life, replacing the gloom with golden warmth. “Killing a god has consequences, as we have seen these last few months. What I wanted to know was whether we could expect any other effects beyond the relatively benign. Has the, for want of a better descriptor, malign spiritual energy fled to some dark corner, seeking another host? More worryingly, did we actually manage to destroy the envy and greed in the world, the consequences of which would be far more dangerous than you can possibly…”

The sage halts in mid flow, suddenly aware Corren is glaring at him. “Yes, well… I suppose you might have some inkling. Valasaar, I must say, seems oblivious to any peril and only suggests we trust in Bahamut’s will. Sethlah is wrapped up in her own concerns, as you yourself have been. It’s nice to see somebody finally taking an interest in the important things!”

“What have you discovered? A new dark god to slay?”

“In truth, I am both pleased and relieved to say that there is no such thing. Nor is there likely to be for quite some time.” Marcus wearily shifts a pile of what may only look like forbidden tomes out of an armchair, and sits, waving his guest to another. “I was able to concentrate enough of the spiritual energy that if there had been any large amount elsewhere, on any plane, the principles of sympathy and contagion embodied in the construct you saw would have pinpointed it without a shadow of a doubt.”

Corren leans forward in his chair, frowning. “You’re sure?”

“You presume to question my expertise?” Marcus sniffs. “My theory is very simple, and has the benefit of being correct: the envy and greed in the world has not gone anywhere at all. Each of us carries it within us as we always did. However, without – shall we say? – a divine focus to stir it up, it remains buried and dormant.”

“So we’re just waiting until a new god comes to take on that mantle.”

“Ah, but there’s the beauty of it, don’t you see? Without the divine focus to stir up envy and greed, it remains dormant; without envy and greed taking an active role in the world, no new god can arise. Once a significant proportion of the current generation pass on – those who have felt such emotions and know what they were like – it could be millennia before the right circumstances arise to break the deadlock. If indeed it ever happens!”

“I see… that’s very reassuring. I must say though, Marcus, I feel quite envious of your ability to discover all this in such a short time.”

“Why thank you-” Marcus’ eyebrows rise and he stops mid-sentence for the second time. “Is that your idea of humour?”

“Quite the opposite.”

“Hmm. We shall have to work on the premise that as a vessel of some considerable divine power, you are your own focus of sorts. You might even act as a focus for those around you, though it would take more than a few petty thoughts to unleash any serious trouble.”

“I will be careful.”

“Of course you will.” Marcus gave Corren a thoughtful look, considering the ambitious youth before him. “I’m sure that, unlike some others I could name, you appreciate the delicacy of the situation…”

1 year after the Fall

The dark haired killer strides across the snow, eladrin bodies lying tumbled in the field behind him. A snap of his sword, white light on the blade, and the last droplets of blood fall flash-frozen to the floor. Behind him, a small group of shadar-kai fanatics holds the loyalist guard at bay despite withering losses – losses he chooses to ignore.

“My queen,” Corren bows ironically to the pale fey before him, and smiles brightly. “You look well.”

“I know what you want, demon. I say that you shall not have it. When the council hear of the treachery of their pet attack dogs, any loyalty-”

“Spare us both the protestations, Inzira – please. I am no longer a Dawnrider, and I need only the Seed. Meanwhile, it appears your neighbour Cachlain has refound his ambition, and readies his forces. You will require the aid of our friends in the mortal lands to repel him… not their paralysis, as they chase after rumour and debate the facts of this tiresome squabble.”

“What have you done?”

“Only restored the natural balance.” For a second, something like regret forms in Corren’s eyes. “Somebody has to, after all. The Seed, if you please.”

Inzira shakes her head, backing away, appalled and defiant.

Darkness grows and clings to the shadar-kai warrior, casting a pall over the skies, and for just a moment the wintry sun grows dim. He surges forward, borne by shadowy wings, and his hand seizes the eladrin’s slender throat. Ice forms between his fingers as he rips the acorn from its resting place around her neck and casually casts her aside.

“I did ask nicely. I promise, I’ll take good care of her.” Corren smirks. “If there was any chance your answer would have been different, I wouldn’t have had to come here in person.” A gesture, and the remaining shadar-kai begin to form up around him, the air shimmering with a powerful teleport spell.

“Remember Inzira. Cachlain. Do you hate me? Do you envy my power? Do you want vengeance? It’s only natural. But I tell you now, queen of the winter fey, that your children will worship me as their god. For I am the Lord of Winter.”

Corren’s black gaze pierces the kneeling monarch, and then he is gone.

6 years after the Fall

The temple in the back of the market square is all but deserted, its icons torn down years before and its sumptuous furnishings wrecked. The people of this harsh city have no mercy for those who fall behind.

A miserable figure crouches in the wreckage, turning a simple golden ornament over and over in its hands. Without envy or greed, none have sought to take it from the beggar – for such he clearly is – but neither can he recall why he clings with such fervour to the image of a five-headed dragon. Greed was his ruling emotion, vengeance his passion, and without them he is lost.

Slow footsteps, scraping in the dust. The beggar starts to scuttle away, for if greed is no more then idle cruelty remains as strong as ever. He is stopped by a name. “Gunrak Titherin?”

His name. Desperate as he is to escape, something in the voice holds him fast. The barest hint of a forgotten promise. Ages pass as the footsteps continue their leisurely approach, until finally he is staring at a pair of well-made boots. “Look up, Gunrak Titherin,” and the cultured voice seems amused, “for I have an offer for you.”

“Nothing left… there’s nothing… nothing left.” Not so much a protest, as the last sigh of a man who died years ago.

“True. You were a power once, Gunrak Titherin, and now you’re but a worm. But you mustn’t let that stop you.” The voice turns compelling. “Look inside you… don’t you want the ones who brought you low to suffer? The people who spit on you and piss on you and turn aside in the street? Do you remember how it feels to carve your revenge into their screaming bodies?”

The barest flicker of an all but extinct fire flares to life within Gunrak Titherin’s heart. To the wretched high priest of Tiamat, after so long an absence, it feels as if his soul has caught flame. He cares nothing for whether the pain might kill him as he looks down again at the golden figurine. Involuntarily, his hand closes and his lips twitch towards a snarl. “Mine…”

“I am Mahan. Once I was a bard, as you would say it, but I have been blessed with the light and stand before you as a holy man. I represent a new power, a noble lord who strives to return to the world the passions we have been unjustly deprived of and bring balance back to the heavens.”

Now Gunrak does look up, craning his neck from his crouched position. “Divine Sethlah, the Lady of Deception? I don’t understand…”

“Not Sethlah, although my master counts her as his ally. The Lord of Winter calls you, Gunrak Titherin. Summon up your courage. Rebuild your church and begin anew your devotions. Await the day that your new master calls upon you, for it is coming!”

Mahan’s lip curls. “Or will you stay there in the dirt?”

“No!” comes the desperate response. “I serve the Lord of Winter! He will lift me up and vengeance will be mine!”

40 years after the Fall

The crowd fills the execution pit and spills out into the streets of the city of Gloomwrought. The shadowfell’s dark skies and dank atmosphere are pierced today by an almost festive mood… or a riotous one. Today, the leader of the seditious cult that challenged the Raven Queen is to be brought low and executed by Her followers, the Ebony Guard of Raven’s Eyrie.

As the hour approaches, shadar-kai loyal to the Raven Queen begin to shout and jeer. Nearly as many cult sympathisers quietly line the ways, some surreptitiously clutching the faith’s twin symbols – images of a black sword or a white acorn, or of the two superimposed. Small fights break out, only to be swiftly broken up.

Amidst the thunder of the crowd, the prisoner is brought out and bound to the pyre. He has been blinded and maimed, but his tongue is intact. In part, this is a gesture of contempt from the Ebony Guard, to leave a powerful Doomspeaker free to chant. Equally, they cannot afford to seem weak in the face of the threat that promises to wrest power from the Raven Queen: and a tongue that can shout threats can also beg.

A slender, hooded figure stands to one side of the square, jostled by the impatient cityfolk and seemingly lost in thought as he stands looking up at the platform.

In his mind, he stands in a darkened room, just days before. “The path is clear. You have served me as my herald, Mahan, and as my priest. But now you must serve me for the last time, and take up your mantle as the first martyr.” The response from the High Priest of Winter comes swift and fervent, even joyously, a fanaticism befitting the title whose full powers Mahan has always been denied. “Fear not. You will be My exarch and My symbol and will stand at My side for all of time to come.”

The executioner puts torch to wood, and the crowd roars. The hooded figure shudders as waves of hatred roll over him… the crowd’s hatred for the man tied to the stake, and hatred for his blasphemous cult; its hatred for the executioners, for the Raven Queen; hatred called up by poverty and by injustice and desperate lives where the toil is never done. With the hatred comes fear, and with that envy: envy of those richer, more powerful, stronger and more successful.

He seizes the power of the crowd’s anger, and from it shapes a single thought that wings its way across the planes. “Now.” Within the feywild, eladrin arcanists sworn to Winter bring their spells to bear on the cult’s most precious artifact, the Seed of Winter, bending all of their might towards vengeance on the fomori enemies who have raided and slaughtered them for decades. Long held plans are brought to action, and a priceless fortune in residuum pours through their hands. Slowly, the frigid air cools, takes on a killing bite.

The broken shadar-kai burns, yet even in his burning he continues to howl defiance. If the Guard had hoped for pleas, they are disappointed. “The Lord of Winter is the Lord of Vengeance! I fear not, for I will be avenged! If not in this life then another! I WILL BE AVENGED!”

Yes.

As the bonfire builds to its hottest and the prisoner is consumed, his tortured shrieks finally giving way to the crackle of cooking flesh and fat, a freak gust of wind smashes the base of the pyre to tinder and scatters it across the platform. The executioner howls and staggers back, his face alight, and the hooded figure grins even as it becomes translucent, burning up from within. A blue fireball shoots towards the heavens, throwing aside the nearest onlookers…

In the feywild, the cult’s ritual builds to a crescendo. At its peak, arcane power is met suddenly by divine, and lashes out towards the lands of Cachlain the fomori in a blaze of destruction not seen since the gods battled the primordials for possession of the world. Stunned mages collapse senseless, as a swathe of land miles wide is transformed into a single, sculpted block of ice…

In the shadowfell, peace returns to the place of execution. Shocked silence reigns, until a lone finger points shaking upwards, where a brilliant blue star reigns alone in the dark sky…

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